When I first moved to Phoenix, Az. I was not sure I was going to like it. I mean I moved there from New Jersey where I spent the majority of my life living about 20 minutes from Manhattan. Living there you could go in just about any direction and encounter Polish food shops that make you smell like a kielbasa by the time you walk out, Spanish food that would make you swoon, Italian delis in abundance, Middle Eastern food shops that had cumin aromas, Chinese take out counters a plenty, sandwich shops where freshly sliced cured meats were pilled high on hard rolls, bakeries that baked crispy crusty bread, and get cookies from shops that melted on your tongue and went perfectly with coffee or tea.
While living in the Trenton and Princeton area of New Jersey in my last few years there you could stand on almost any intersection and hear language from anywhere in the world. With all the universities, colleges, and a huge Seminary there I felt in some ways I was more submerged in ethnicity than I was in the Northern half of the state. It was living there that Brian and I fell in love with eating sushi and spending endless hours in coffee shops sipping cappuccinos and pondering thoughts on life. It still is my most favorite area of New Jersey…and as for that coffee shop I spent endless hours in – I walked in there about two years ago and the barista looked at me and asked: ”Danielle, would you like your usual?” I kid you not. Almost 12 years later not only were some of the same staff around, but they remembered me and my drink! You do not find occurrences like that too often.
When I moved to Phoenix there was such an adjustment. I didn’t find those ethnic shops on every corner. I couldn’t find a hard roll, kielbasa was vacuum sealed in plastic at the supper market, attempts at Chinese take out for a while were a bust, and of the Italian delis we explored had a somewhat sterile feeling. There might not have been Spanish restaurants to stroll into, but there was Mexican. Plenty of Mexican food. Tacos, tortas, chilis, pasole, menudo, enchiladas, and to our discovery- salsas came in so many varieties besides hot, medium or mild. We really enjoyed exploring all that we could about Mexican food.
But one evening after dinner I was telling Brian I felt there was something missing living in Phoenix. I was not homesick for New Jersey, but I missed the variety that New Jersey offered us. Everything here was a drive away. There was no walking to a corner store to grab what you need. I also didn’t feel there was a place to go and hang out at like we did at the coffee shop in Princeton. There was Starbucks (yuck!) but that was about it. They were not open late, they were a drive away, and they did not make you feel like you want to spend and hour there philosophizing. That is when Brian told me he passed a new coffee shop that opened up on his way to work. Put your shoes on and lets go. Low and behold a shop that was roasting it’s own beans right there. The owners were working the counter and the espresso they poured was damn good. They were open early, and stayed late. Finally some bit of normalcy for us.
About a month later I was reading an article about an Ethiopian restaurant in Tempe. I begged Brian to go, and finally he gave in to give it a try. When we walked in you were hit with an aroma of spices, it almost made me drunk. The nice lady who waited on us explained to us how to order and how to eat in an Ethiopian manor. It was truly a divine experience. We at with our hands and marveled at the many stewed dishes in front of us along with the Injera (crepe like bread made with teff). The best dish there was a lentil stew cooked in berbere spices. We left there with full bellies and senses pleased. Between the coffee shop Brian discovered and this Ethiopian restaurant, living in Phoenix became a bit more tolerable.
Fast forward to today in Seattle. There are plenty of ethnic food shops to wonder into. The aromas of them are amazing and it is not uncommon we find ourselves the only non ethnic people in any one of these places. There are coffee shops on every corner, and I do not have to get in my car to get everywhere in this city. I also discovered a spice shop (again in waking distance) that sold berbere mix. (If you want to know more about this spice mix or purchase it for yourself you can find it here.) I picked some up and have been playing around trying to recreate the lentil dish of that restaurant in Tempe. Low and behold I have come close, and possibly as close as I think I could. Brian and I have been enjoying these lentils with some rice and a bright green salad on the side to cut the rich spiciness of the lentil stew. Although I have not yet attempted to make Injera, this stew is more than satisfying to curb our indulgent cravings. No matter where you move to or travel to it may take some adjustments to get use to. But what I did learn I carry with me…like lentils stewed in berbere. One of the many things I cherish and learned while living in Arizona.
Stewed Lentils in Berbere Spice (serves 4)
(*Note: We personally like this mixture a bit spicy. The rice – in my opinion – mellows out the spiciness. If you prefer things a bit more mild feel free to use 1 tbsp of berber spice mix to start. you can always add more in the end.)
3/4 cup lentil (brown, green, or black variety are good)
1 small onion, chopped small
2 cloves of garlic chopped
3 tbsp of tomato paste
1 &1/2 tbsp of berber spice, ground
6 cups vegetable stock or water
sea salt to taste
First, place all the above ingredients (besides the sea salt) in a heavy bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Next, keep the pot at a gentle simmer. Be sure to stir it often. You are looking for the lentils to absorb almost all of the liquid of your pot. The ruminates will form a bit of a sauce.
Finally, once the lentils are cooked though and your mixture has thickened you can remove it from the heat. Season it with sea salt to your preference. If you feel you would like your mixture a bit more soupy feel free to stir in a bit more of water or stick to loosen it us a bit. If you would like a smoother consistency feel free to remove a couple of ladles of your lentils and puree in a food processor and return the mixture back to the pot and stir it all together. Serve while warm.